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Buckley – Tribute to Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

Tribute to Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Philadelphia Society

Regional Meeting

Wilmington, Delaware, October 9-10, 1998

I wish I could be with you for this celebration. As my dear mother
once wrote, on approaching senility, to a friend whose invitation
she had to turn down, "Only my absence prevents me from being

But I happily record my greetings and my admiration for the guest
of honor. Many years ago at dinner with Max Eastman he asked
me if I had read Liberty or Equality? by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.
As a matter of fact I had just then read it. "Amazing!"
Eastman, the learned essayist, critic, and philosopher remarked.
"Reading it is like going to college and graduate school,
all over again."

I agreed. Moreover, my affinity for the mind of Kuehnelt-Leddihn
would prove extensive. He is the only writer whose column appeared
in National Review when the magazine was founded and continued
to appear in it for 35 years. The mind of Kuehnelt-Leddihn is
more fully stacked than that of anyone I have ever known, but
not merely in the $64,000 Question sense, in which wandering scholars
can be found who can answer questions about the dates of the Second
Pelopponesian War. If such a question were directed to Kuehnelt-Leddihn,
he would tell you why the years of that war were important, and
the impact they had on the thinking of Aquinas after he had discovered
Aristotle. There was never (that I know of) a mind better fixed
on the reticulations that, if diligently pursued, will take you
from Mother Teresa to Sister Boom Boom.

It unquestionably occurs to some that in reading Erik you are
in the hands of an exhibitionist. It is important to know that
this isn’t the case: an exhibitionist seeks merely to display
the knowledge he has achieved. Kuehnelt-Leddihn seeks with agonizing
effort to put that knowledge to the service of a set of ideas
he has hammered out from his conversance with the history of the
world, and the history of human thought. He now and again takes
obvious delight in the historical or linguistic bon mot,
but only because he is convinced that you and I will share in
that delight: he is never just showing off. Two or three novels
back I wrote about Berlin during the time that the Wall sent up,
and my story began in the awful days when Hitler was preparing
to go to war. Kuehnelt-Leddihn liked the novel immensely, and
sent along a pleasant single-spaced four-page letter wherein he
engagingly pointed out seventy or eighty errors, traceable to
historical solecisms, proper names improperly attributed to characters
from that particular region of Germany, misleading street addresses…I
was both appalled (at the size of the accumulation), and amused
(by the arcana brought together). I wrote to ask his permission
to publish his letter in my little corner of National Review
(it is called "Notes & Asides") where I publish
correspondence that especially appeals, for one reason or another.
He wrote back instantly and said under no circumstances was I
to do any such thing, the letter had been only for my own amusement.
A year later I had mislaid the critical letter and wished to
show it to someone as a rogue example of Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s voluminous
knowledge: would he be so good as to send me a copy of it? He
hadn’t kept a copy.

This is not a night for a lecture from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn,
let alone from me. I say only this, as one of his oldest friends
and admirers: We are proud to have known him. His books present
difficulties. They cause some readers to jump up and down with
frustration/indignation/fury. But not enough I warrant, to have
caused an (respectable) reader to take any one of his books and
toss it into the fireplace. Because, I suspect, any intellectually
sentient man would feel that to do so would be the equivalent
of tossing into the sea a huge collection of valuable stones,
irregularly set, perhaps; eccentrically cut, yes: but giving out
shafts of brilliant light.

From a distance, I raise my glass in a toast to a great teacher
and a great man.

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